Friday, July 16, 2004
Egypt is a 7000 years old country in northeastern Africa with a population of over 70 million people. This ancient nation had the most magnificent civilization ever known to mankind. Until this very day, modern science cannot explain how ancient Egyptians managed to create such wondrous works such as the pyramids and the huge temples in southern Egypt. Even though the pharaohs and the ancient Egyptians are considered to be the "stars" of Egyptian history, there are still other crucial periods such as the Greek, Roman, Christian, and Muslim eras.
The vast majority of Egyptian land is desert and nearly all Egyptians live along the Nile river and the Mediterranean sea coast. There are 3 main deserts: the western, eastern, and the Sinai deserts. The Eastern desert and the Sinai have large mountains.
Egypt has several sources of income; the most important are tourism, fees from the Suez Canal, and agriculture. The country has some oil but nearly all of it goes to local consumption. Recent natural gas discoveries are expected to be a major Egyptian export commodity. About 10 years ago, remittances from Egyptian working in oil rich Arab countries were an important source of income. However, because of the worsening economic situation in those countries, Egyptian workers came back home and swelled the number of unemployed citizens.
An average Egyptian is very kind by nature. You can easily win his heart with a smile or a small wave. We love those who show us kindness and humility. We hate arrogant and puffed up people. This is the reason why many Egyptians feel resentment towards Arabs from the Gulf who sometimes acts as if we're inferior to them. Westerners are adored here because they're simple and are not complex.
Egypt is 80-85% Muslim and 15-20% Christian. The vast majority of Muslims are Sunnis. There is a tiny Shia community who are not allowed to exhibit their faith publicly. Egypt had a vibrant Jewish population 60 years ago; there are almost no Jews today.
The Christians of Egypt are called Copts. This word is derived from the Coptic word Egiptos which means Egyptian. As far as the situation of Christians is concerned, the degree of dissatisfaction varies from a region to the other. In urban areas, Muslims and Christians live together in harmony. However, severe tensions exist in poorer rural areas especially in southern Egypt where the majority of Christians live. Many Christians complain about the inequality they feel in areas such as government employment, access to the media, and building places of worship.
I believe one of the blessings we have in Egypt is that the population is homogeneous. Apart from the Muslim-Christian divide, Egyptians regard themselves as Egyptians who are committed to the well being of their country. We don't have multiple ethnicities and sects as Lebanon and Iraq do.